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George Karl
Nuggets coach George Karl will have plenty of new pieces to work with in 2011-2012.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

StatsCube: Roster turnover makes Nuggets a wildcard

Posted Dec 2 2011 1:57PM

To get ready for the 2011-12 season, StatsCube breaks down the critical numbers for all 30 teams.

You may not recognize the Denver Nuggets when they take the floor this season. Gone are seven of the 14 players from last season's opening-night roster, a number that could increase if free agents Arron Afflalo and Nene don't re-sign. Also gone are another two players that they acquired from New York in February.

So it's fair to say that the Nuggets, who have won at least 50 games each of the last four seasons, are a serious wildcard in the Western Conference. But if last season is any indication, George Karl will be able to make the most of whatever roster he's handed.


2010-11 Basics
Record: 50-32
Pace: 97.9 (3)
OffRtg: 109.5 (1)
DefRtg: 104.8 (16)
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The Nuggets fielded two entirely different teams last season, and it can be argued that both exceeded expectations.

Before the All-Star break, they were built around Carmelo Anthony, who made it clear (privately, at least) that he wanted out of Denver. And considering the distractions they were dealing with, it was impressive that the Nuggets were able to maintain their spot in the top half of the Western Conference with the No. 1 offense in the league. But they were pretty poor defensively.

After the break and with Anthony in New York, the Nuggets regressed only slightly offensively, while improving dramatically on defense. In fact, with four games to go in the season, they had the No. 1 post-break defense, a remarkable feat considering they had the No. 1 pre-break offense.

Nuggets efficiency, 2010-11

Timeframe W L Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Pre-Break 32 25 98.1 3 109.7 1 107.2 23 +2.5 10
Post-Break 18 7 97.6 6 109.0 6 99.4 5 +9.7 2
Bringing balance to the court

Before the trade, Anthony ranked fifth in the league in usage rate, using 29.2 percent of the Nuggets' possessions while he was on the floor. Each of his teammates saw the ball far less frequently.

After the trade, the Nuggets were much more balanced offensively. J.R. Smith's post-trade usage rate of 22.0 percent was the highest on the team, but ranked 66th among NBA players who logged at least 250 minutes after the All-Star break.

Nuggets pre-trade usage among top eight players in minutes
Player GP MIN Usage Rate
Carmelo Anthony 50 1774 29.2%
Chauncey Billups 51 1646 20.8%
J.R. Smith 54 1322 19.5%
Al Harrington 51 1277 19.5%
Ty Lawson 55 1316 18.5%
Nene Hilario 51 1561 17.1%
Arron Afflalo 57 2001 13.3%
Shelden Williams 42 713 13.2%
Nuggets post-trade usage among top eight players in minutes
Player GP MIN Usage Rate
J.R. Smith 25 646 22.0%
Al Harrington 22 387 21.4%
Ty Lawson 25 787 19.9%
Raymond Felton 21 663 18.7%
Wilson Chandler 21 642 18.7%
Danilo Gallinari 14 433 18.6%
Nene Hilario 24 731 17.8%
Kenyon Martin 23 656 17.0%

The only offensive area where the Nuggets regressed after the trade was their free throw rate, an area where both Anthony and Chauncey Billups excelled. But they still ranked fourth in the league after the break by attempting over 28 free throws per 100 possessions.

Defensively, the Nuggets improved across the board. They defended both 2-point shots and 3-point shots better, they forced more turnovers, they allowed fewer free throws, and they rebounded better.

Nuggets' defensive numbers
Timeframe OppeFG% Rank DREB% Rank OppTORatio Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Pre-Break 50.8% 20 74.5% 13 13.4 29 .305 18
Post-Break 48.4% 7 77.5% 1 15.5 10 .275 7
OppeFG% = Opponents' effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% =Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTORatio = Opponents' turnovers per 100 possessions used
OppFTA Rate = Opponents' FTA/FGA

As remarkable as the Nuggets' post-trade success was, 25 games is not a huge sample size. And now, thanks to a trade and multiple lockout-encouraged departures, we'll never know if they could have sustained that kind of defense over a full season. Obviously, they couldn't keep the momentum going in the postseason.

Record: 1-4
Pace: 96.9 (1)
Offense: 99.8 (11)
Defense: 106.3 (13)

As they did in the regular season, the Nuggets changed personalities in the middle of their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder ... but in a bad way. They were awful defensively (114 points allowed per 100 possessions) in Games 1 and 2, and then awful offensively (95 points scored per 100 possessions) in Games 3 and 5.

Two efficient free agents

Free agents Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are playing in the Chinese Basketball Association without "out" clauses that would allow them to return to the NBA before the CBA season ends. But the Nuggets' still have two important free agents here in the States. And those are arguably two most efficient scorers in the league.

Among the 181 players who attempted at least 500 shots from the field last season, Nene and Afflalo ranked first and second in true shooting percentage respectively.

Highest true shooting percentage -- NBA
Nene 402 654 61.5% 286 402 71.1% 1,091 65.7%
Arron Afflalo 312 627 49.8% 138 163 84.7% 867 62.0%
Paul Pierce 507 1,021 49.7% 386 449 86.0% 1,511 62.0%
Chauncey Billups 339 794 42.7% 384 419 91.6% 1,208 61.7%
Dwight Howard 619 1,044 59.3% 546 916 59.6% 1,784 61.6%
Ray Allen 480 978 49.1% 193 219 88.1% 1,321 61.5%
Richard Jefferson 304 642 47.4% 148 195 75.9% 891 61.2%
Dirk Nowitzki 610 1,179 51.7% 395 443 89.2% 1,681 61.2%
Kevin Martin 553 1,267 43.6% 594 669 88.8% 1,876 60.1%
Steve Nash 399 811 49.2% 227 249 91.2% 1,106 60.1%
Minimum 500 FGA
TS% = Points / (2*(FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

But both players were much more efficient when they were on the floor with Anthony than when he was on the bench or in New York. Nene's true shooting percentage was a ridiculously efficient 69.2 percent in the 1,132 minutes he played with Anthony last season, while Afflalo's was 65.1 percent in his 1,272 minutes with the star. Without Anthony, Nene's and Afflalo's numbers were 62.4 percent and 59.1 percent respectively.

Miller makes 'em better, slower

The Nuggets won't be replacing Anthony's scoring, but they did acquire a player who knows how to make his teammates more efficient. Before the Draft, the Nuggets swapped point guards with the Portland Trail Blazers, sending Raymond Felton to Portland for Andre Miller.

The Blazers were much better offensively with Miller on the floor (109 points scored per 100 possessions) than with him on the bench (99) last season. And while they were on the floor with Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Wesley Matthews and Brandon Roy were all more efficient scorers.

Those were Miller's five teammates that took the most shots while he was in the game, when they had a combined true shooting percentage of 57.5 percent. While he was on the bench, their combined true shooting percentage was just 52.6 percent.

Miller may also bring a change in pace with him to the Nuggets, who ranked third in pace last season. In each of his two seasons in Portland, the Blazers ranked dead last in pace, and they've played slower with Miller on the floor (89 possessions per 48 minutes) than with him on the bench (92).

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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